Questions under study: The diagnostic significance of clinical symptoms/signs of influenza has mainly been assessed in the context of controlled studies with stringent inclusion criteria. There was a need to extend the evaluation of these predictors not only in the context of general practice but also according to the duration of symptoms and to the dynamics of the epidemic.
Principles: A prospective study conducted in the Medical Outpatient Clinic in the winter season 1999-2000. Patients with influenza-like syndrome were included, as long as the primary care physician envisaged the diagnosis of influenza. The physician administered a questionnaire, a throat swab was performed and a culture acquired to document the diagnosis of influenza.
Results: 201 patients were included in the study. 52% were culture positive for influenza. By univariate analysis, temperature >37.8 degrees C (OR 4.2; 95% CI 2.3-7.7), duration of symptoms <48 hours (OR 3.2; 1.8-5.7), cough (OR 3.2; 1-10.4) and myalgia (OR 2.8; 1.0-7.5) were associated with a diagnosis of influenza. In a multivariable logistic analysis, the best model predicting influenza was the association of a duration of symptom <48 hours, medical attendance at the beginning of the epidemic (weeks 49-50), fever >37.8 and cough, with a sensitivity of 79%, specificity of 69%, positive predictive value of 67%, negative predictive value of 73% and an area under the ROC curve of 0.74.
Conclusions: Besides relevant symptoms and signs, the physician should also consider the duration of symptoms and the epidemiological context (start, peak or end of the epidemic) in his appraisal, since both parameters considerably modify the value of the clinical predictors when assessing the probability of a patient having influenza.